Movie Review: The American Astronaut Brilliantly Warps The Final Frontier (2001)

David Salcido

A product of the prestigious Sundance Institute, The American Astronaut is basically Firefly, if it had been directed by David Lynch, after binge watching science fiction and western serials from the 40s and 50s. In actuality, the sci-fi comedy western was written and directed by Cory McAhee of the cult band The Billy Nayer Show and is an hour and a half of balls-out absurd — and slightly kinky — fun.

The plot, in a nutshell, follows space trucker Samuel Curtis (McAhee) in his quest to deliver a handsome young breeding stud to the all-female planet Venus, with sinister birthday barfly and mass-murdering psychopath Professor Hess hot on his heels. It’s all intercut with some of the most surreal musical numbers ever committed to celluloid and fine turns by Tom Eldredge as the monologuist, Orange Is The New Black’s Annie Golden as Cloris, the Venusian chieftess, and Joshua Taylor as the Blueberry Pirate.

The premise might be Sci-Fi, but the sets are about as pedestrian as one can find anywhere along the back roads of America.

Dingy bars, crappy restrooms, rundown theaters and a cramped bedroom that doubles as a cockpit, only add to the charm.

Intercutting black and white still montages and paintings of space travel with cheap space suits and retro futuristic technology keeps the interplay active.

Bizarre and creepy characters also abound, from the “punies” in the space barn and their unwholesome spawn, to the women of Venus straight out of the antebellum South. Then there’s Hess. His distasteful dance – kicking up ashes left behind by disintegrated miners – is one of the creepiest scenes this side of Eraserhead. Hess, it turns out, is the yang to Curtis’ ying, his arch-nemesis and fatal attractor.

The American Astronaut is a bizarrely entertaining, low-budget independent offering that is more than worthy of cult status. Beautifully stark black and white cinematography and delightfully over-the-top performances – along with unhinged dialog and unabashedly twisted musical numbers unlike anything Busby Berkeley could have imagined – make it one hell of a freaky ride.

With songs like “Baby In The Jar” and “The Girl With The Vagina Made Of Glass” what can one expect?

Do yourself a favor and add this one to your film bucket list before it disappears into the absurdist musical comedy space western ether from which it sprang.

David Salcido, a life-long cinephile, has worked in and around the film industry his entire adult life, writing for industry publications such as Entertainment Weekly, Movieline, Pop Smear and Video Business as well as over 15 years as a spin doctor in the employ of Paramount Pictures, Full Moon Entertainment, First Run Pictures, Lionsgate Entertainment and many more. Today he is proprietor of his own independent film company Muffin Mix Productions and a full-time partner with New Mexico-based production company PRC Productions and distribution team Borderlands Media. His latest film venture, the vampy horror anthology Lady Belladonna’s Tales From The Inferno is slowly making the rounds to a microcinema near you. Get your fix at www.DavidSalcido.com.

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